Three years after the Edgar Allan Poe Museum opened its doors in 1922, tragedy befell the city of Richmond in the Church Hill area when the train tunnel beneath what is now Jefferson Park collapsed, killing four people and burying a train engine beneath the hill. Although the bodies of one worker and the conductor were recovered, the locomotive and the remains of two workers are still trapped under the earth.
Completed in 1875 to connect the C&O Railroad to the Shockoe area, the Church Hill train tunnel had a history of structural problems. Because the soil contained a high clay content, the ground which the tunnel was built through retained a large amount of groundwater after rain, making the tunnel structurally unsound. During its initial construction, ten workers were reportedly killed due to collapses. Because of this instability, the tunnel fell into disuse after the construction of the river viaduct, and would be unused for twenty years.
In 1925, efforts were made to restore the tunnel to a useable condition to increase railroad capacity in the city. It was during these repairs that the western end of the tunnel would collapse on October 2nd, trapping six people, Train Engine #231, and ten flat cars beneath the hill. Two workers managed to crawl out to the eastern end beneath the flat cars; by the time rescue teams managed to dig to the engine, they discovered the bodies of the conductor and one other worker. Due to the tunnel’s instability, however, the bodies of the two remaining workers were never recovered. The Virginia State Corporation Commission ordered the tunnel sealed to prevent others from being trapped in subsequent cave-ins. The train locomotive and the cars are still there today.
Even after the tunnel was sealed, it continued to be a problem for the Church Hill area, collapsing in various other locations and creating sinkholes. In 2006, the Virginia Historical Society drilled a hole through the tunnel seal and used a camera to look inside and see if there was any way to recover the lost train engine. The tunnel was discovered to be full of water and silt, and any attempts to open the tunnel would inevitably result in further sinkholes developing in Church Hill.
The sealed western end of the tunnel lies mere blocks away from the Poe Museum at 18th and Marshall Streets, and can be visited by the public.
One of Edgar Allan Poe’s favorite places for a stroll in Richmond was Shockoe Hill Cemtery. Located at 4th and Hospital Streets, the cemetery was a retreat from the noise and activity of the city. The cemetery was established in 1820 as Richmond, Virginia’s first city-owned cemetery, and the first burial took place there in 1822. Seven years later, Poe’s beloved foster mother was buried there. She would be only one of many important figures from his life to be interred there.
During a recent visit to the cemetery, I took some photos of a few of the graves of people Poe would have known.
These are the graves of Poe’s foster parents, the Allans. From left to right, the monuments are for Louisa Allan (Poe’s foster father’s second wife), John Allan (Poe’s foster father), Frances Valentine Allan (John Allan’s first wife and Poe’s foster mother), William Galt (John Allan’s uncle who left Allan a fortune), and Rosanna Galt. Although Allan inherited a fortune, he left Edgar Poe out of his will.
This is the grave of John Allan’s oldest son, John Allan, Jr., who died during the Civil War.
Here is the grave of Allan’s second son, William Galt Allan, who also served in the Civil War.
This is the grave of Allan’s third son, Patterson Allan. Like his brothers, Patterson died young. John Allan’s second wife outlived all three of her children.
Above is a photo of the grave of Anne Moore Valentine, Poe’s “Aunt Nancy.” Valentine was the unmarried sister of Poe’s foster mother Frances Valentine Allan, and she lived with the Allans even after Frances Allan’s death in 1829.
This is the grave of Poe’s first and last fiancee, Elmira Royster Shelton. The inscription on this monument is only barely legible, but you can still read the name of Elmira’s husband Alexander Barrett Shelton.
Here is the grave of Poe’s first great love, Jane Stith Craig Stanard, the woman to whom he dedicated his poem “To Helen.” She died from “exhaustion from the mania” when Poe was fifteen, and he and her son are said to have paid frequent visits to her grave in the months after her death.
This plaque was placed at the base of Jane Stanard’s grave in 1923 by Poe Museum founder James H. Whitty and Poe Museum benefactor John W. Robertson. They dedicated the plaque on the first anniversary of the opening of the Poe Museum and considered the event so important that they invited the President of the United States, Warren G. Harding. He declined the invitation with the below letter.
Shockoe Hill Cemetery is also the final resting place to a number of historical figures including the United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, Revolutionary War hero Peter Francisco, and Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew.
Richmond Poe Museum staff on the recently rebuilt steps of the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore
Edgar Allan Poe lived in this small row house from 1832 to 1835. The household also included Poe’s aunt Maria Clemm, as well as Maria’s two children Virginia and Henry, and Poe’s paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cairnes Poe. Poe would later marry his cousin Virginia. The family was just about able to afford the rent for this house thanks to Grandmother Poe’s pension, which was granted to her because of her late husband’s service to the country during the American Revolution.
David Poe, Sr. (Edgar’s paternal grandfather – b. 1743 d. 1816) strongly sympathized with the American Revolutionary cause and donated a lot of the Poe family fortune to support the Continental Army. He served as Quartermaster General for the city of Baltimore and although his official rank was that of major, he was affectionately known in the city of Baltimore as “General Poe.”
So, Edgar’s connection to the city of Baltimore was very strong. It makes sense that Poe would choose to live with family after his disagreements with his foster father, John Allan and dishonorable discharge from West Point. Life in Baltimore was not easy, the Poe family had little money. They lost Poe’s elder brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, in 1831 before they came to the little house at 203 Amity Street. Grandmother Poe was ailing and bedridden during their time in the house. When Grandmother Poe died in about September 1835, the pension died with her, meaning the family could no longer afford to keep the house. Around the same time, Poe began work at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond and soon thereafter married his beloved cousin, Virginia.
The lovely Amber, Jessy and Jen with Baltimore Poe House Curator Jeff Jerome and some bottles of cognac left by the fabled “Poe Toaster”
During our visit Jeff Jerome,the curator of the Baltimore Poe House, treated the Poe Museum staff to a wonderful tour of Poe’s Baltimore home as well as Westminster Hall and Westminster Burying Ground where Poe and his family are laid to rest. We were treated to a fabulous surprise performance of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by renowned Baltimore actor and Poe impersonator, Tony Tsendeas and got to see some of the bottles of cognac left by the mysterious Poe Toaster over the years. Many of these bottles are now part of the Baltimore Poe House collection, which also includes a telescope and lap desk used by Poe and an assortment of crystal and china from the Allan home among other things. We checked out the tiny garret bedroom at the top of the house used by Poe (presumably the site where he wrote some of his early tales like “Berenice”).
After our visit to the Poe House, Jeff then took us to Westminster Hall as well as the Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs.
The Westminster Burying Grounds were established around 1792 and Westminster Presbyterian Church (now de-consecrated and known as Westminster Hall) was built on top of the burying grounds in 1852. The Catacombs were created to allow people access to the resting places of loved ones whose tombs wound up underneath the church. The burying grounds are the final resting place for many famous Baltimoreans including General James McHenry (for whom Fort McHenry was named) and, of course, our beloved Poe and many of his family members.
Spooky Catacombs beneath Westminster Hall
A couple more photos from Westminster Hall and Burying Ground
We paid our respects at BOTH of Poe’s graves on the property. Poe was originally buried in the Poe family burial plot but was moved to his current resting place in 1875. Virginia and Maria are now buried in the same place.
We at the Poe Museum would like to thank Mr. Jerome for allowing us to come visit and for giving us such a wonderful tour of Poe’s Baltimore. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and we encourage others to pay the Baltimore Poe House and Museum a visit too!
What at first might seem a fictional subject of one of Poe’s more grisly tales, premature burial was actually a legitimate concern in the time of the author’s life. There exist numerous accounts of people being buried alive dating from as far back as the 12th century, and stories abound of exhumed caskets discovered to have scratch marks on the roof when opened. In fact, President George Washington was so terrified of being buried alive that as he lay on his deathbed he begged his servants not to put him in his grave for twelve days to ensure that he was indeed dead.
"The Premature Burial" by Antoine Wiertz (1854) (taken from Wikipedia.org)
If it was scary enough to frighten our first president, who was a fearless war general, you can bet the prospect of being buried alive is pretty terrifying. Poe was aware of the widespread fear of being buried alive (known as taphophobia) and utilized it in a few of his stories such as The Premature Burial, Berenice, and The Fall of the House of Usher. The characters buried alive in these stories suffered from catalepsy, an actual nervous condition that causes muscle rigidity, a decreased reaction to pain, and unconsciousness. All were signs that doctors associated with death.
There were tales of people erroneously declared dead awaking at the morgue reported all the way through the 1890s, and while advances in medicine at this time would have made premature burials less prevalent, there were still preventative measures in place just to make sure. Wakes, which began as an ancient Hebrew tradition to ensure death became the most popular method. During the wake, friends and family would sit near the casket and watch for the earliest signs of decomposition, just to make sure that their deceased loved one had actually died. This burial custom is still used today, though it is not necessarily to ensure that the person is dead.
There was an entire market for caskets and contraptions that would provide extra ways of preventing an individual from suffering a premature burial. Signal bells were installed next to some graves. Attached to a piece of string that would be tied around the deceased’s finger, this string could be pulled to ring the bell and signal a person nearby in the event that the departed was not quite so departed after all. Others had air pipes built into their coffin roofs to allow fresh air to get into the victim, prolonging their life. Still others created vaults that had escape hatches so that the revived person could escape.
Taberger's Safety Coffin (taken from Wikipedia.org)
Premature burial certainly gave new meaning to “rest in peace” as the outcome of being buried alive was anything but peaceful. After being buried, a casket has only a few hours’ worth of oxygen trapped inside of it. If someone was unfortunate enough to wake up, they would inevitably become panic-stricken as they tried to escape; this elevated stress level would cause the individual to consume oxygen at a much higher rate. In this state, they would lose consciousness in less than five minutes and die of asphyxiation in less than half an hour.
Alex Harris, a student who has been doing a research project at the Poe Museum for the past month or so, wrote Poe a fun song which he shared with us (and a tour group) today! Check out the video here:
Thanks for sharing your song with us, Alex! and best of luck with your project!
Welcome to the first installment of the Poe Museum blog’s new monthly feature entitled Weird Richmond. Every month you will find here a new and bizarre tale to satisfy your craving for all things weird. This is history off of the beaten path, full of strange tales of Poe, the times he lived in, and this city that he called home.
"Goethe Deathbed Portrait" Friedrich Preller (1832)
We open Weird Richmond with deathbed portraiture. A deathbed portrait is exactly what it sounds like: a post-mortem image of a deceased person. What we see today as morbid was actually practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries as a means of capturing a final image of the dead for memorial purposes. In fact, many famous individuals have had deathbed portraits made of them, including Martin Luther, Goethe, and Victor Hugo, just to name a few.
Prior to the invention of the daguerreotype method of photography in 1839, deathbed portraits were either sketched or painted by artists. When photography became readily available in the mid-1800s, the deathbed portrait experienced a resurgence of popularity due to the camera’s ability to capture the departed exactly as they would have been upon their deathbed. During this time tuberculosis was running rampant across Europe and the United States, and many deathbed portraits from this time depict victims of what they termed “consumption.”
Virginia Clemm Poe - Deathbed Portrait (1847)
Here at the Poe Museum we have a print of the deathbed portrait of Virginia Clemm Poe, wife and cousin of Edgar Allan Poe. Her portrait was completed mere hours after her death at the age of 24 from tuberculosis, and for many years this was regarded as the only indisputable image of Virginia in existence (since then, another portrait has been validated). Virginia’s portrait is rendered in watercolor, and except for the odd angle that her head rests at, she could pass for still being amongst the living. While it was more common to have the deceased to be shown on their deathbed, some families posed their loved ones in chairs to make it look as if they still lived.
There are a few more modern cases of deathbed portraiture from the past century, most notably images of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie after being assassinated by Serbian nationalists in 1914. Even more recently, British artist Daphne Todd won the BP Portrait Award in 2010 for her deathbed portrait of her mother.
In 1826, Poe left Richmond to attend the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He enrolled at the university on February 14th, 1826. He was part of the second class to matriculate at Mr. Jefferson’s University. While in Charlottesville, Poe studied Ancient and Modern Languages and distinguished himself in both subjects. He appears to have been well-liked by other students and teachers and his room (number 13!) on the West Range at the University was a popular gathering place where Poe would entertain friends with tales of his own devising.
Unfortunately, Poe’s time at the University of Virginia was short-lived. His foster father, John Allan sent him to Charlottesville with insufficient funds to cover Poe’s school expenses. Mr. Allan did not respond to Poe’s requests for financial help, so Edgar resorted to gambling in an attempt to pay his bills. Edgar had no luck at this and wound up about $2000 in debt (bearing in mind that by his estimation, his bills at UVA would have totaled about $350 for the entire year). He left the University of Virginia on the 15th of December 1826 in disgrace.
Poe’s time at UVA has come to be appreciated in the ensuing years and his legacy there is maintained by The Raven Society, a prestigious honor society founded in 1904. The Raven Society lovingly maintains room # 13 on the West Range much as it must have appeared in Poe’s time and sponsors scholarships and fellowships to honor academic excellence.
Here is a picture of Poe’s West Range room from the Raven Society’s website:
Poe's room at the University of Virginia - Raven Society photo
We tracked down Poe’s dorm room on West Range and took pictures (of course!). We are geeks about such things here at the Poe Museum! (Endearing geeks. We hope.)
Jennifer and Melanie in 2 different photos by the door to room #13 West Range
We also checked out the nearby historic marker devoted to Poe and visited the Rotunda, the centerpiece of Jefferson’s plan for the University. (It would still have been under construction when Poe was there.)
Jennifer with Eddy’s historical marker
The UVA Rotunda on the day of our visit – it was a bit cloudy, but rather appropriately atmospheric under the circumstances
For more information on Poe at the University of Virginia, check out the Raven Society’s website – it’s worth the visit!
In honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother on the bicentennial of her death, a Richmond artist painted these two portraits of Eliza Poe. The first is closely based on the only surviving life portrait of Eliza Poe.
The second portrait was painted from the actress Debbie Phillips during one of her performances as Eliza Poe. This painting is currently hanging in the Poe Museum’s gift shop.
Get into the Halloween spirit and help raise money for the Poe Museum by shopping at the Chesterfield Towne Center Barnes & Noble on October 23rd!
All you have to do is come to the store (located at 11500 Midlothian Turnpike) on October 23rd, 2011 and buy books. When you get to the register mention you are with the Poe Museum and a percentage of the money you spend will go to support the Poe Museum in Richmond. Anything you buy, from books to Nooks to muffins in the coffee shop helps.
We’ll have a host of fun and activities throughout the day including Black Cat & Raven puppet making, readings of Poe’s works and readings from the new Richmond Macabre horror anthology as well as a special appearance by Unhappy Hour favorite Beggars of Life.
Here is a schedule of the activities planned for the day:
10 A.M.-Noon Make your own black cat and raven puppets
Noon “The Pit and the Pendulum” read by Scott Bergman of Haunts of Richmond
1 P.M. Reading from the new horror anthology Richmond Macabre
2 P.M. Horror makeup demonstration by actor Keith Kaufelt
3 P.M. “Do You Know Poe?” Talk by Poe Museum Curator Chris Semtner
4 P.M. Another reading from Richmond Macabre
5:30 P.M. “The Tell-Tale Heart” Performed by Jamie Ebersole
6 P.M.-7:30 P.M. Live Music by Beggars of Life
So come out and do some shopping for All Hallow’s Read (What is “All Hallow’s Read”, you ask? Learn more here: http://www.allhallowsread.com) or get an early start on your Holiday shopping and feel good about helping the Poe Museum out at the same time!
Can’t make it out to Chesterfield Towne Center on the 23rd?
You can still help the Poe Museum by participating in our ONLINE BOOKFAIR from October 23rd through October 28th. Just visit bn.com/bookfairs and enter the Bookfair ID # 10564045 before you check out.
Buying books and helping out the Poe Museum, what could be better?
Reports of the Poe Museum’s demise have been vastly exaggerated.
On Sunday morning, viewers of CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood were shocked to hear the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is closing its doors. No one was more surprised than we at the Poe Museum. Not only are we not closing, but we are preparing to celebrate our ninetieth anniversary with a full schedule of exhibits and events. Since Sunday morning’s broadcast, the Poe Museum has been inundated with calls and emails from concerned citizens from across the country, but we assured them, and will continue to assure them, that the Poe Museum in Richmond is doing fine and has not lost its funding. We appreciate all the concern expressed by our friends, and we hope you will continue to support the Poe Museum.
If you have never been to the Poe Museum, or if you have not visited in a while, October is the perfect time to pay us a visit to see our new exhibits, “The Raven, Terror & Death” and “Death and Mourning in the Age of Poe.” We will also have a book launch for the new anthology Richmond Macabre on October 2, our annual commemoration of the anniversary of Poe’s death on October 6 (Yes, we celebrate his birthday as well as his death day.), our Halloween Unhappy Hour on October 27, and Poe’s Pumpkin Patch on October 29. In the new year, we will celebrate Poe’s birthday with a Poe-rade through Poe’s Richmond and the opening of a new exhibit of the 43 illustrations to “The Raven” done by James Carling in 1883 and not publicly exhibited in over 35 years. In April, we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Poe Museum with a new exhibit of rarely seen or recently discovered Poe manuscripts and letters.
Below is a list of some of next year’s Unhappy Hours and exhibits. You can expect to see even more of the kind of events only the Poe Museum can bring you.
Saturday, January 14th – Poe’s Birthday Bash – Noon to midnight!
Saturday, January 14th- Exhibit Opening: “James Carling’s Illustrations for ‘The Raven’” (continues until May 30) in Exhibit Building
Thursday, April 26th – 90th Anniversary of Poe Museum opening (1920s garden party) – Unhappy Hour – 6-9pm
Thursday, April 26th –Exhibit Opening: “In Poe’s Hand: Letters and Manuscripts” (continues until July 11) in Memorial Building
Thursday, May 24th – Unhappy Hour “The Enchanted Garden” – 6-9pm
Thursday, June 28th – Unhappy Hour “The Gold Bug” (pirates!) – 6-9pm
Thursday, July 26th – Unhappy Hour “The Oval Portrait” (Poe Carnival) – 6-9pm
Thursday, July 26th –Exhibit Opening: “New Acquisitions of Poe Portraiture” (Until September 30) in Exhibit Building 2nd Floor
Thursday, August 23rd – Unhappy Hour “The Premature Burial” – 6-9pm
Thursday, Sept. 27th – Unhappy Hour “The Masque of the Red Death” (Poe variety show) – 6-9pm
Sunday, October 7th – Poe’s Death Day Celebration – Noon-6pm
Thursday, October 25th – Unhappy Hour “The Black Cat”—6-9pm
Sunday, October 28th – Poe’s Pumpkin Patch – Noon to 5pm